Monday, July 26, 2010

For the Love of Beads And All that Are Holey

Main Entry: 1Bead
Pronunciation: \ˈbēd\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English bede prayer, prayer bead, from Old English bed, gebed prayer; akin to Old English biddan to entreat, pray — more at bid
Date: before 12th century
1 a obsolete : prayer —usually used in plural b plural : a series of prayers and meditations made with a rosary
2 : a small piece of material pierced for threading on a string or wire (as in a rosary)
3 plural a : rosary b : a necklace of beads or pearls
4 : a small ball-shaped body: as a : a drop of sweat or blood b : a bubble formed in or on a beverage c : a small metal knob on a firearm used as a front sight d : a blob or a line of weld metal
5 : a projecting rim, band, or molding
6 : a precise knowledge or understanding —used in such phrases as get a bead on

Main Entry:  2- Bead
Function: verb
Date: 1577
transitive verb
1 : to furnish, adorn, or cover with beads or beading
2 : to string together like beads intransitive verb : to form into a bead
bead·er noun

Ciao!  Today is brought to you by the word beads.  I promised I would write about this,didn't I?  What is it with me and beads?  Is it an obsession?  I really would not call it a compulsive preoccupation or fixation;  I don't find myself daydreaming about being locked in a bead store... well, not often, anyway.  I think, like my beloved birdies, it's just part of what makes me... me. Again, everyone that truly knows me knows that I adore beads.  I probably have gorgeous red, silver-lined 13/0 seed beads coursing through my veins, keeping me alive.  After all, when I test my blood sugar three times a day, all that is required is 'a tiny bead of blood'.  I swear that's what the instructions on my glucometer. True story!

So, when did this adoration begin?  Ask my cousin, Pete.  She can tell you.  Okay, well, since she is busy at the moment, I'll tell you.  I believe I was around five or six.  Going to Virginia to visit with my Aunt Marie and Uncle Tony when I was really young was always one of my favorite places to go.  After an hour or so after visiting, Pete would take me into her bedroom with her.  She had the coolest bedroom.  All kinds of paper flowers and posters.  One day, she went to her desk and opened up a drawer and took out three or four long, clear glass tubes.  Cork stoppers.  We sat on her bed and I watched her thread a scary-looking needle with thread.  Then, she opened the tubes and poured out these teeny, tiny beads. She talked to me about all kinds of stuff, asked me questions, I'm sure, but what I wanted to know was 'What are those, and where can I get some?'   In all honesty, I don't remember how old I was.  Maybe I wasn't six or seven... maybe seven or eight?  Under ten, that's for sure.  I remember her letting me hold that needle, and letting the knotted string hang.  I looked at the beads she had strung.  No particular pattern; all different colors.  Then she told me to try it.  She showed me how to hold the needle and how to use it to get the bead onto it.  I'm sure I was a mess. Still, she let me try. I may not have done much, but the seed was planted.  Now, every time we would visit the Flores family, I begged Pete to take out her beads and string beads with me, and she would.  She would show me how to make different patterns, and soon, I made my very first necklace.  No clasp, just knotted.  I wish I still had it.

Soon, I started telling my folks about how neat it was stringing beads at Pete's house.  I can't remember my very first tubes of beads, exactly, but I do remember my dad trekking all over trying to find a place that sold them.  He finally found it.  A craft store in Hyattsville.  Not much of a selection, but they HAD THEM. He surprised me one day with four tubes: White, Red, Yellow and a tube mixed with lots of colors, a set of needles and some thread.  It may as well have been Christmas day.  I was so surprised and thrilled.  Mom showed me how to make a knot in my thread by wrapping the thread around my finger and pulling it off and using her fingernail to tighten it. COOL!  Mom knew stuff, too! The ONLY rule in the house?  "Watch what you're doing so you DON'T SPILL YOUR BEADS!" This was my parent's mantra all the years I lived with them.   Later, I'll explain why.  I was careful  for the most part.  Still, I'd cringe when Mom vacuumed and suddenly you'd hear the awful sound of beads being sucked up the Electrolux.  What a sad sound.

Later, I would discover that beads were being sold in different sizes.  My first tubes were the standard "11/0".  I bought some "8/0" and "6/0" beads, too (the higher the number, the smaller the bead).  For years, I thought that was it.  Slowly, my bead collection began growing.  And still, I was only seven or eight years old.

I remember going grocery shopping with my Mom at Giant Food on Arliss Street off of Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring, and she would allow me to go to the toy section while she shopped.  They sold two kinds of beads that I would buy over and over;  A package of tiny, plastic, thin tubes.  Hexagon shaped. Pink, yellow, light and dark greens and blues, purple, white and black.  Then there were the sea-shell beads.  Tiny conchs, scallops, and other assorted shell-shaped beads, again in the same colors as the hex-shaped beads.  Depending on my mood, I would ether string  seed beads, or my plastic beads.  Never strung them together, though... weird!

I got my first bead loom when I was ten.  I was so thrilled.  I learned how to string the warp threads on, and would make lots of loomed stuff.

As fun as it was, I would get disinterested because I didn't know know to use what I'd made.  Most loomed stuff was sewn onto hide or leather.  I couldn't sew a button.  Mom tried to help, but even she didn't know, and as much sewing as she did, I figured it was a lost cause.  Shame.

As years passed, I would always buy beads when I came across them, whether I needed them or not (rarely have I ever had a 'bead emergency' where I simply HAD to have a certain color, size or type... it happens, but rarely).  I had a library card and that that allowed  me to  take out books from the "Bookmobile" that came by every Wednesday.  One day, I happened to find a book about seed beads.  I was in shock.  A BOOK about BEADS!?  You mean, someone other than ME likes beads!?  I checked that book out so many times, I can't even count.  It was a book about American Indian bead work, mainly loom work.  There was a tiny chapter called "Comanche or Brick Stitch."  I read that chapter over and over.  Feeling brave one day, I tried it.  After a few very frustrating tries, I did it.  It was sloppy, but I got the general idea.  I made my first diamond for my mom;  Again, I wish I still  had it.  I tell you, the woman wept.  And Dad?  He told anyone that would listen how proud of me he was. "Damned if she didn't figure that out all on her own;  She's eleven, you know..." And for years, that white and green diamond lay on Mom's dresser.

Remember I said I'd explain more about the only true rule I had to follow?  Well, there was a good reason for it.  Not only would I drop hundreds of beads, (face it, I do now, even), but there were times when I would drop a needle with those beads. It's 1983 and I'm seventeen.  My Uncle Benny is flying in from CA tomorrow to stay with us for two weeks! I'm putting my beading away to help clean up before he arrives.  I dropped a needle.  We had this God-awful boiled spinach-green shag carpeting back then.  It hid everything.  I looked and looked.  No needle.  Maybe I hadn't dropped it after all.  Maybe I... **GASP**  Ow. Lift up the right foot.  There it is!  I'm about to pluck it out of my heel when I lose my balance.  My needled foot slams onto the floor.  I see stars.  The needle is now inside my heel bone.  And then I hear and feel a tiny *Snap*.  It broke.  Inside my heel.  I'm screaming.  I find the broken-off piece.  Not seeing the other, I try to walk. More stars.  I scream.  So, the day my uncle is due in , I'm having surgery to remove a needle from my heel bone. I even had to learn to walk again.  What I go through for beads. Sheesh.

I practiced  brick stitch over and over and made so many diamonds that I decided to start looking for ear wires to put them onto. Might as well try wearing them, right?  By then a few more craft stores were beginning to open.  By the time I was eighteen, there was MJDesigns.  I lived in that store!  I never felt really comfortable trying new beading techniques until after I was married.  I had discovered "Bead & Button" magazine by mistake one day.  Again, that feeling of WOW!  A magazine about nothing but beads (sorry buttons)!  I can die a happy girl!    Through my reading, I found many new beading ideas and techniques. Lots were way out of my league and suddenly I felt very small and insignificant.  I stopped beading for a few years, but would still buy them; beads and the magazine. Buying beads is almost a religious experience for me, which brings me to a subject that only one other person can relate to... Pete.  She herself is an extremely talented beader; making things I can only dream about.  One day she and I were talking about buying beads and we were trying to come up with a word or phrase that describes the feelings we get when holding such gorgeous hanks of beads;  the way they feel.  They way they feel in our hands.  The sound they make.  It was almost ... dare I say it:  Sexual? Sensuous? It can't be a religious thing, then, can it?  Is there an in-between?  Letting a hank of garnets glide over your fingernails... the way a hank of vintage Czech 14/0 True Cuts (itty bitty beads, the size of ... I can't think of anything!  They are cut on two sides so they shine like crazy) slink over your fingers.  Okay, maybe not sexual, but it's damn- near close.  It makes me shiver.  Makes me happy.  It's therapeutic.  Yeah, yeah... I knew you would think I'm nuts.  Anyhow...I'm rambling yet again.

I started beading again after my firstborn son came along.  I needed something to do. I made many pairs of earrings.  I got pregnant with my second baby in 1995.  Beading was put on hold again, but soon, I'd pull them out, again, in between naps and while my oldest was at school.   I can't remember the year, but I purchased a B&B magazine and was immediately drawn to a pattern in the "You Did It" section.  Not really a tapestry, but a hanged piece.  Done in Peyote Stitch.  DAMN.  I had not mastered that (still haven't, really).  I kept looking at it.  I turned the page sideways.  "Why can't I do this in Brick Stitch?"  So I tried it.  I kept going.  And going... and going.  This is what I ended up with: 
Tapestry I gave to my father.
 I was diligent, though.  It took me nearly a year to complete.  I stared another one in different colors, but had to stop when I became ill.  Now, I can't find those colors of beads, so I may just cut it apart and make a bookmark (The center panel is complete... just like in this photo).  Who knows.  I may try a whole new one.  I do love making these.

  I began adding more beads to my ever-growing collection.  I discovered the joys of semi-precious beads;  garnets, chrysoprase, moonstone, turquoise, pearls, Swarovski® beads, jasper, lapis lazuli.  My husband takes me to Baltimore to my favorite bead store;  Beadazzled.  Heaven right here in Maryland.  He looks at beads with me, then as I start handling the various hanks, stares at me in horror at the look of sheer ecstasy on my face. A bead-gasm right there in the store.  If he'd simply look around, he'd see that in all the faces in that bead haven -women and men - had the same look of dreamy joy.  I'm pretty convinced that men make better beaders.  If only I can get my husband to hold a needle?  I'll keep trying.  I suddenly hear him saying "Good luck with that."

Making earrings now with Swarovski® crystals, pearls, and semi-precious stone beads was now my thing.  I LOVED making them... and still do.

I'm not exactly sure when I stumbled upon the idea of making bracelets, but started thinking about how I could incorporate the brick stitch into something other than the diamond shaped earrings.  Then I found a photo of such a bracelet.  Granted it was different, but it gave me an instant idea:

Why not?  The ONLY thing I have trouble with is the clasp.  Still working on that.  While I was recovering from major surgery a few years ago, I read about something called "Beaded Beads"  NO WAY!  I can do that!  Now these are so much fun to make, but very difficult.  Difficult in that you need a VERY thin needle to pass through the tiny 14/0 Charlottes.  In deciding to make these I would have to make another trip to Baltimore (aww, darnit), and buy something I had never purchased or used before:  Swarovski® Crystal beads.  WOW!  Not only are these babies stunning, but are they expensive!  Ebay.  Lifesaver... and money saver!  Ebay has become a real close buddy.  Pearls.  Now, pearls I will travel to B'more to purchase.  I have to hold them... I need that pearlgasm. Plus, I've been disappointed with pearls purchased on ebay.  I even purchased beading needles from London... special ultra-thin size 16 needles.  They are thread thin and are a major bitch to thread.  Things I make requiring these needles, the price will go up simply due to the hour I spend trying to thread the things.

Making beaded beads is really easy, like I said.  The formula is so simple.  It's getting that needle to go through tiny beads not once, but twice. With patience and a gentle yet firm hand, you end up with these:

Remember that feeling I was trying to convey?  Sexual?  ALMOST.  To have a handful of beads that you have created, using the best materials you can have, rolling around in your hand, the heaviness, and the sparkle... indescribable.  It's silly, but I like it.

Which brings me to my ever-growing bead collection.  The following is just a sampling. 

These are hanks of Czech beads. A 'hank' is a bunch of beads sold in a strung set of strands.  The two pink hanks are size 13/0.  The rest are all 11/0.  Remember, the higher the number, the smaller the bead!

These I bought yesterday at the Howard County Annual Powwow..  My newest babies.  Photo does no justice;  these SPARKLE.  And these I bought too.  LOVE the color.  They even have what the Native American culture calls a 'spirit bead'  One bead that is usually added by intentionally by the beader.  According to Native American culture, God's spirit will not flow into any creation that is flawless, so beaders add a Spirit Bead among all the other beads so that God's spirit can flow through the bead work. Similar, the "Persian Flaw" is the same idea in that rug weavers intentionally weave in a wrong stitch because only God can truly create perfection. I love this idea, and I too believe the same. When I create something, I always add a Spirit Bead, or a wrong stitch. On my site, I advertise that the Spirit Bead can mean something personal to a buyer, whether it's a loved-one's birth color, a school color, a favorite color of your secret crush... whatever, but for me, it's that nobody here is perfect... and yes, only God can create perfection. ♥  It can be added purposely, though.  I add them to all of my works in a color that reminds me of a particular person or place.  Even hanks can have one... it's the red bead!


This is where I bought them:  They are now safe among the other beads.  I keep them in an old tackle box of my father's.  It's bulging.  I need a new box.  I saw a really pretty pink one at Dick's.  Maybe for Christmas?  In the mean time, I am going to make a new pair of earrings for myself.  I bought a dress at the pow wow yesterday as well.  The colors are orange, purple and red.  I was drawn to the orange and purple.  Those two colors instantly remind me of getting an orange and grape swirled Italian Ice from the old Good Humor truck.  Haven't seen them since I was a kid.  Oh man, were they good. And, I happen to love orange and purple together, plus a gal needs new earrings to go with a new dress, right? I think that'll be my next project.  Oh, wait.  Do I have orange beads?  Purple?  Oh man, do I have Swarovskis® in orange and purple!? Let me go see:
Yeah, I'm pretty sure I have orange and purple beads...

PHEW.  All's right with the world.   Okay I'm a bit thirsty.. Oh wait!  One more thing!! You need to see my favorites!  I can't go without showing you these!

Don't you just love these!?   I can't bring myself to use them.  I just take them out and play with them.  They are sort of matte-finished.  They instantly remind me of a tall icy glass of Coke.  Sit one in the sun and you'll see these colors.  I think I'll make a necklace out of them for myself, someday.  Wow, I am thirsty, now.  Diet Coke.  Here I come.

Until next time, I'm on the beadin' path...



  1. Those are some gorgeous creations. Most of the terminology is all greek to me, but I enjoyed the post. That needle in your heel bone..... that was unsettling.

  2. Thanks, Kristin! The surgeon told my father that they might have to let that needle stay in my foot. Another day that I was so proud that my last name was Gambino. All my father had to say was, "Eh? Say that again?" Needle was removed. :) Thanks, Dad.


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